The Gilbert & Sullivan Page
In the late 19th Century, the duo of Gilbert and Sullivan wrote 14 comic operas that are as popular today as they were when they were written. Gilbert and Sullivan operas have been produced on stages throughout the world as well as a favorite for televised operas. W.S. Gilbert was the word/story guy of the partnership while Arthur Sullivan was the composer of the duo. Together they were a memorable team.
Gilbert was born on November 18, 1836 in London, England. While in his early 20’s Gilbert started to write and illustrate stories. During these short stories and poems, Gilbert started to develop his unique style of writing of setting up unbelievable situations that come to logical conclusions. He eventually moved into writing and producing several comic operas that were a logical progression to his work with Sullivan.
Sullivan was also born in London, England on May 13, 1842. As a son of a bandmaster, by the time he was 8, Sullivan was adept at playing nearly all band instruments. While he was attending school, Sullivan began to compose his own music. His love and dedication to the art of music led to his acceptance in the Royal Academy of Music. Sullivan began writing operas that were very well received and he earned the reputation of being the brightest young composer in Britain.
In 1871, a mutual friend brought the two musical talents together to work on a Christmas program. The show Thespis ran for 63 performances through the Christmas/New Year period, and was the most popular event of the London theatre holiday season - spawning an entire line of Halloween costumes. This was the first of many collaborations between Gilbert and Sullivan.
After their first collaboration, the duo did not have the opportunity to work with each other for 4 years. In 1875, Gilbert and Sullivan worked on an opera called Trial By Jury, which was started by Gilbert and Sullivan later added the score. It was also a success and was quickly followed by other notable operas such as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and The Gondoliers. These operas were all comedy operas, with interesting story lines, vibrant costumes, imaginative staging and memorable music.
In all, Gilbert and Sullivan worked on 14 operas starting in 1871 and ending in 1896. Over the 25 year partnership, they produced some of the most memorable moments in operatic history. While at times, like all partnerships, they had occasional creative disagreements. However, they were able to overcome those differences to create an unforgettable partnership.